Happy Writing

Today I sat at my keyboard trying to decide what to write. I reached deep into my creative mind and I looked straight into a pure blank wall that reached far beyond my peripheral vision. I actually have been looking at this wall for days now and today I came to the conclusion that I am really tired of looking at it, but I had no idea how to get it knocked out of the way. What was this thing anyway? Why can’t I pull even a simple sentence out of my head?

I sat at my desk a good portion of the morning wondering what the heck was wrong with me. As I have shared with all of you before I am REALLY good at procrastinating and a talent for finding things to do other than writing. This huge grey wall is the problem. It is a wall that quietly sits at the tip of my nose and is expansive. The grey is the color of a day that is cold, dull, cloudy, and not quite snowing. You know those days. There are no leaves on the trees and the grass is brown and, if you live in the burbs, all of the houses are tan. This is my wall. It covers the whole of my mind.

After plowing through an entire bag of M&M Peanuts I had a break through…..I built this ugly gray wall in response to frustrations I have been facing in my writing. Enough is enough. I needed some help so I reached out to my wonderful writing friends at Delve Writers and posted this:

Some advice please….
Whenever I “finish” writing something I don’t really like it and it makes for motivational problems to write something more. I am in a constant state of frustration and this leads to not writing. I’m sure I’m not the only one with this issue….if you too have this problem what do you do to move past it?

I want to emphasis that I know I’m not alone in being stuck like this and I am sure there are a vast number of writers (if not all) that are in a constant state of frustration at some level or another. There were many responses to my post with many words of wisdom, but there were two links in particular that really rung true for me.

Ira Glass on Storytelling is a quick video giving advice to anyone who is embarking on a creative future. This particular piece struck a cord for me in that I need to be reminded, on a daily basis, that I’m at the beginning. I know what is good and what sounds good in a story and right now I hear a lot of bad coming from my creations so I have to keep plugging away to get to that point if being good.

“Why Writers are Procrastinators” is a fun piece by Mary McArdle that describes me to a tee. At times I feel like I am the Queen of Procrastinators and it is great to finally know why. I want to be at the end of the creative race without doing all the training and I figure that if I sit around long enough I will magically get there. HA!

Tonight I sit at my keyboard with a happy set of fingers itching to get back to it. If you are anything like me then take my advice….don’t sit staring at a blank wall. Not only is it boring, but it really doesn’t do much to get the creative flow going. If you don’t already, find a group of amazingly talented writers to share your burdens and successes with. There is no one else that will really get it like another writer. If all else fails, paint that wall a different color. Yellow might be a good color to start with then add some green, blue, and just a hint of red to give the scene some tension.

When is it Done?

In the comments of my previous post, my friend Mardra posed the question, “”When is it done?”   I would like to take a guess at the answer (keyword, guess). I am working on a short story (that’s the one I keep talking about) that I had thought was done at least 5 times and with each new revision I think, “OK, this one is done,” and with each new revision my editor says, “Its not done yet Kathie.” Her notes are copious, “Bring out the reason we should care about your character. Where is this taking place? What kind of room is it? Put more emotion into the world around your character.”  There are days that I’m with Mardra, “I just wish that when I want a piece to be done bad enough it will miraculously be good enough.”

As writers we all write, and re-write, and revise, and grumble, and pace, and write some more. Our own, self-inflicted pressure to make it perfect adds to the already daunting task of getting the story done and each word can be a monumental task to get onto the page.  On the other hand, there are times the words flow faster than we can type and we find ourselves panting as we race to get each scene on paper before the inspiration is lost.

After all the blood, sweat, and tears have flowed into our work is there a time that we can say it is done? I feel I’m pretty solid in my answer when I say, “Maybe.” I go back to the theory that “there’s always room to improve.”  I know Mardra doesn’t like that particular professor, but he does have a point. If there wasn’t room to improve there would be no reason to re-write, revise, and grumble our way to a piece of writing that might be done, one day, MAYBE.

Four Edits and Counting

I have spent the day writing.  This morning was dedicated to a short story that has been in the works for about a month now. When I hacked out the initial version I was so excited.  I gave it to my editor for her seal of approval.  I got it back with all my delusions of granduer wiped from my mind.

When I finished today’s writing session I proudly informed her that I thought my story was done.  She looked at me (without even reading it) and with a smile said, “I doubt it’s done.”  Wait, WHAT?  I have re-written this story four times and she tells me it’s not done? I trust my editor’s judgement, painful as it is to hear and If it wasn’t for her I would have called it done after the first draft.  Now that I’m on #4 I can see how the story has more life blown into it, but does it really need improving?

I have learned a great deal through this writing process and I am more aware of the pit falls the novice writer can fall into.  The goal in doing this short story is to improve my writing skills and get my mental gears turning when I dive into my book. I thought it would be good to save each draft of this story separately so that I can go back to review how it has has developed over the course of editing. The before and after snapshots in this piece really tell the story of my story. Take a look at the opening paragraph.

The first draft….

This morning I woke in a hotel room.  The streaked windows were clear enough to see down to the wet streets and blowing trees.  A gloomy day at best.  I went to the lobby for the usual coffee, powdered eggs, slimy sausage and a bland bagel.  The breakfast was always the same, the lobby always the same, the people always the same. I carried my tray back to my room for a solitary breakfast sitting by the window looking out at the dark day.  After my shower I dress appropriately for the morning and in my reflection I see my black dress, black sweater, and black shoes.  Always the same.

The fourth draft…..

The sheets are fresh and crisp.  My head burrows deeper into the reaches of the white cave.  A sweet melody plays from the alarm that contradicts the dreary day ahead of me.  Peeling my eyes open I fumble my fingers to slide the alarm into silence. Today presses heavy against my chest allowing only short shallow breaths.  I trudge to the closed curtains behind which hangs a gloomy day.  Water runs down the window pane in torrents.  Beyond are streets slick with rain and mammoth trees hanging low from the weight of the deluge. The window mounted cooler kicks in with a blast of cold air pushing me back into the room to dress. I prefer to ignore the need to move forward in the day.

Both paragraphs tell the reader that this is about a person who is in a hotel room and it is raining outside.  What the first draft fails to do is bring feeling into the story.  By the fourth draft not only is it raining outside, but everything about the weather is also a part of the gloom of what the character reluctantly faces in the day ahead.

I once knew a speech teacher who never gave his students an ‘A’.  He explained that to give an ‘A’ was to restrict the student from improving.  An ‘A’ implied they were perfect and there was no need to strive higher.  I think my editor follows this same theory and she is right, this story isn’t done yet and there is still plenty of room for improvement.